Hands down, one of my favorite business trips of the year for Minnesota Turkey is my annual trek to Washington DC in July.
My boss and I take a group of our leaders – mostly farmers and sometimes a student or two – to our nation’s capitol to participate in the National Turkey Federation Summer Leadership Conference and visit all of Minnesota’s Congressional offices.
Say what you will about the state of politics in this country, but this trip to DC never fails to energize and inspire me.
Spending time with my “turkey peeps” reminds me that there are so many dedicated, passionate, and intelligent people working for the turkey industry. From the farmers and turkey companies (like Minnesota’s Jennie-O Turkey Store, Turkey Valley Farms, and Northern Pride Cooperative) to those who service the industry in areas like breeding/genetics, bird health, nutrition, equipment, and more … there is so much to be learned with all of us working toward common issues and goals.
My favorite part of the week is the trip to Capitol Hill when we visit with our Congressional offices. I book all the appointments ahead of the trip and create the schedule for our group. Our group has farms and business interests in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota so we typically have about 15 appointments to divvy up throughout the day. It keeps us all moving quickly and this is when we cover our issues of importance – this year, for instance we talked about the importance of trade with other countries like China and Mexico; the 2018 Farm Bill and our request to include a disease prevention program for all animal proteins; and the labor shortage both farms and turkey companies are experiencing in our rural areas.
I sometimes get asked if visiting DC and talking with our Senators and Congressmen and women is a waste of time. Far from it. This is a chance to tell our story and to talk about how national regulatory policy and bills like the Farm Bill impact our farms each and every day. If we don’t share these stories, someone else will tell them for us – and I can guarantee it won’t be in a positive manner, or probably even remotely accurate.
We go to DC to build relationships with our Congressional leaders, their staffers, and those in various regulatory agencies. Do our requests get fast-tracked? For the most part, of course not. But we do make an impact and work does get done – certainly not immediately and maybe not even in a year or longer, but we do make progress.
I feel so fortunate to be able to see Washington DC “in action” like this. It’s a side of our country that most people will never experience – and if you ever get the chance to visit DC and your Congressional offices, I highly recommend that you do so.
As I reflect on this year’s trip on the flight home, here’s what I know. The heart of the turkey industry remains its family farmers. The turkey companies for which they raise flocks may seem large to some folks but without the farmers in their barns every single day, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy turkey products year-round like we do. Don’t be misled by comments you see online that turkey production is “big impersonal ag” or “industrial farming” where no one cares for anything more than the bottom line. There is a heart – and I see it every day.
To share the phrase that drives my friend and colleague, Carl Wittenburg, whose North Dakota and Minnesota turkey farming roots run deep, and who is this year’s chairman of the National Turkey Federation …. #TurkeyIsFamily!
xoxo – Lara